My novel isn’t quite finished yet. In fact, I don’t think any work of art is ever “finished”. It gets abandoned when the creator has had enough, has other ideas pushing for attention and deems that the current one is good enough. Under The Black Sand isn’t quite there yet. Give it a few weeks, a month, and I will happily abandon this story and send it off on its journey.
Most debut novels are years in the making. After a few false starts, endless rewrites and self-doubt, they finally emerge. This one is no different.
I think my first attempt at novel writing was Life Is A Bitch, which I started writing in 1996. It was as bad as the title suggests. It mutated into Plastic and could have become something, but it wasn’t to be. Then it became The Box. Vastly different from the first version, but still it didn’t rock my boat enough to finish it.
Fast-forward to 2005. I wrote a script for a short film, The Small Hours. It was the first thing I’d written that became something more than bytes on a hard drive. After film school, I wrote and shot another short, Black Sand. The idea was born after watching Mulholland Drive by David Lynch. Not that it bares any resemblance, but the film ignited a spark when combined with a real-life event from years earlier.
I got in touch with my favorite novelist, William Kowalski. He read the screenplay, came up with a few suggestions and I implemented some of them. The short wasn’t the correct format for the story. It was too big, too complicated. I wrote a feature length screenplay based on the short, but by the time it was completed, the world economy had collapsed and nobody had money for me. And so I followed the advice of a friend and fellow filmmaker, Hjálmar Einarsson. I adapted the screenplay into a novel.
It all seems fairly straightforward, but if anyone ever got to read the first drafts, they would’t recognise the story. There is also the small matter of being demotivated. When you have 60.000 words in a document, things start to blur. I had no idea how far I was, where the story was and how to move forward. I was copy/pasting dialogue from the screenplay and it was all turning very uninspiring.
Until I came across Scrivener. It is a word processor for writers. I imported my scribblings into the program, split it into chapters and I saw the light again. I had already written eleven out of thirteen chapters. I saw where the different parts of the story were located, how some parts were too short and some dragged on. Scrivener took me by the hand and helped me finish the novel.
There are no shortcuts. I had to come up with the story myself, I had to write it myself and I will have to push it myself once it’s “done”. But I doubt that I would have been able to finish it without the help, feedback and support of countless people around me. Thank you to all that helped, inspired and supported the effort, those that I did and didn’t mention here.
This post, originally from 23 July 2012, was recreated on 6 January 2016, after my site got deleted as explained here.
One of the best “how to write” books I ever read is Wannabe A Writer by Jane Wenham-Jones. It is funny and extremely informative. And it can be downloaded for free today.
Edit: And now I’ll dampen my enthusiasm a bit. This download is available to people in the UK only. If you are in the UK, get the book, it is still great. Amazon disappoints me though. I guess I saw the Kindle revolution as a new and brighter world, where we would be able to share information and literature, but the pennymen had to put their restrictions on it. I wonder why this decision was made. I don’t see the sense in it.
A lesson learned for when my book gets published. Will the author be able to influence the business decisions around the distribution? We shall see.
Since the completion of the polished draft and the printing of it in a book form, many have said they admire me for achieving this and how they wish they could write novels. It seems there are wannabe novelists all around us. I use the word “wannabe” in the best and most positive sense, as I consider myself one.
When I ask why they don’t go for it, they say they don’t have the language skills (style) or a story to tell. That is nonsense, obviously. Writing is hard work, craftsmanship and a bit of talent. If you can write an email reasonably well, you have all the talent needed. The rest, you can learn.
The hard work is telling yourself to sit down and write. Simple as that. Reserve an hour a day, two hours, whatever you can spare. You don’t have to type all the time. Scribble an idea on a piece of paper. Come up with a name for a character. What is his or her job? Create crisis that the character has to deal with. Before you know it, you have the beginnings of a story. Draw from your own experience or come up with something wild. Inspiration will come to you if you stay at it.
Story structure is important, especially for larger works, and I may cover that in a later post.
The skills and writing style comes as you type. Like everything, practice makes perfect. Your first story may be stupid and badly written, but the second will be better. The third is the best yet. And so on. Hone your skill, find your style and keep practicing. Don’t write a novel just yet. Write short stories, small things you can finish quickly. The novel will come when you’re ready for it.
Many people that admire me for having completed a novel are 10-20 years younger than I am. Needless to say, I hadn’t written anything noteworthy at their age. So, I’m no better than they are. I’ve just had more time to do this and get where I am. Don’t compare yourself to someone that wrote a novel at age 17. You are not them. You are you and things happen when you’re ready for them.
We are too quick to stamp ourselves “little me”. I am not a novelist. I am not a prime minister, a rock star, a great thinker. I am just a plumber, a ground stewardess, a bus driver. This way of thinking is flawed. You are your experiences combined with character. Your job description simply states what you do to make ends meet and has nothing to do with yourself as a person.
Have faith in yourself and be what you want to be.
When faced with a hard decision a few months ago, a good friend told me I was opening doors and that could only be fun. She was right, but I listened to the nay-sayers that said I didn’t have what it took. What was I thinking? I had no place in that world! I had a life, a family to take care of. I should be old enough to know my place. I had said that I would start with volunteering and only get paid if I got elected. Volunteering? At your age? That is crazy talk. If you were eighteen… as if age has anything to do with passion. As if making money was the only measurement of success.
And what if I didn’t get elected? They believe that would be failing, while I saw it as an experience either way. But it is easy to do nothing, and so I am still here. That door may have closed or it may still be open, but other doors have opened up. They always do. Thing is, we are never out of options. There are always choices and it’s up to us to grab our chances.
So, I didn’t go into politics. For better or worse. I did finish my debut novel though. More or less. There are still a few rough edges, but that is because I want it to be perfect. Not because there is anything wrong with it. The doors to a political career opened up briefly, I peeked through them and was intrigued, but untimely didn’t dare to take the leap. But the door to a writing career may still be open. It will probably remain open as long as I can write, and feel like doing a whole lot of it.
I have held out two blogs up to now. Both in Icelandic. Both more focused on politics and current affairs than on anything I was doing. While it is necessary to comment on what is wrong with the world, and I did have a lot of readers at one point, I feel that I must communicate what’s in the heart. Head is full of ideas, but they all come from the heart to begin with. This blog will be rough, unpolished, unapologetic and naive.
You will be able to follow the progress of the novel and my general thoughts and ideas as they are born. Because, like the Pirate Parties that are popping up everywhere show, the times they are a changing. No information is witheld. We say what we think and share ideas of how we want the world to be. I may post ideas for new stories or twists and I may continue rambling on about how the world needs to get a grip.
This door to my mind is open. Welcome. I hope we’ll learn something together.